Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012; Second Reading
I rise today to speak on the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012. In brief, this bill will amend the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to clarify the application and operation of indexation arrangements for the student services and amenities fee, clarify courses eligible for the higher FEE-HELP limit in 2012, update the name of the Melbourne College of Divinity to MCD University of Divinity and make technical amendments to the calculation of the bonus to voluntary repayment of HECS-HELP debt.
The coalition has no concerns with three of the four items that this bill deals with. I will briefly speak about those. The bill updates the definitions of course of study in dentistry and veterinary science ensuring that only courses that satisfy the minimum academic requirements for registration as a dentist, veterinary surgeon or veterinary practitioner are eligible for the higher FEE-HELP limit. Qualifications that are achieved post the minimum required for registration will not be eligible for the higher FEE-HELP limit and this upper limit is set at $112,132 in 2012.
As members will understand, FEE-HELP assistance is payment made available to eligible students but a student who is not a Commonwealth supported student may be eligible for a FEE-HELP loan to pay tuition fees. The amount of assistance to which the student may be entitled is based on his or her tuition fees for the units. But there is a limit on the total amount of assistance that the student can receive. Under the Higher Education Support Act the FEE-HELP limit is generally $80,000. In relation to a person who is enrolled in a course of study in medicine, a course of study in dentistry or a course of study in vet science where the person is enrolled in that course it is $100,000. These amounts are indexed and the upper limit in 2012 is $112,132.
The purpose of the amending item in this bill is to amend the definitions of a course of study in dentistry and a course of study in vet science to mean a course of study which would satisfy the minimum academic requirements for registration as a dentist or a vet surgeon regardless of whether further study is completed before registration is sought. The explanatory memorandum to the bill states:
This will prevent a person from having access to the higher FEE-HELP limit where they choose to continue studying beyond the minimum level of study required for professional registration. A person will not have access to the higher FEE-HELP limit regardless of whether they choose to register as a dentist or a veterinarian. For example, a person who chooses not to register as a dentist after completing the minimum academic requirements and instead decides to go on to further study to specialise in a particular area of dentistry will not have access to the higher FEE-HELP limit beyond completing the minimum academic requirements for professional registration.
The upper limit of $112,132 applies to the minimum academic requirements but no further. Obviously, many students would go further to gain those professional registrations. The coalition has no issue with that part of the bill.
The bill includes technical amendments to the calculation of the voluntary repayment bonus to resolve current rounding issues. The bill amends the act to provide that, in the instance of a partial repayment towards a HELP debt, the amount will be rounded up to the nearest dollar. The intention is to ensure that a person making voluntary repayments is never disadvantaged as a result of rounding calculations.
The bill also updates the Higher Education Support Act to reflect the change in name and role of the Melbourne College of Divinity to the MCD University of Divinity, in accordance with the approval granted by the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority. This is the first university to be established in Victoria in more than two decades. They have been offered a specialised university status offering courses from diploma to doctoral level in ministry, theology and philosophy. The coalition has no concerns with this particular amendment. I come back to the part of the bill that does alarm the coalition. Once again, it concerns this Labor government's endeavours to further slug our university students, this time with a hike in the compulsory student amenities fee. We think the government has slugged Australian students enough. When the original enabling bill for the student amenities fee went through in 2010 and took effect in 2011, it allowed universities to charge a student fee of $250. But an indexation amendment has been slipped in along the way and that $250 is therefore subject to indexation every year. This bill clarifies that in 2012 it will in fact be $263. That is the maximum amount of student services and amenities fees that universities can charge. So it has gone from $250 to $263. This bill also clarifies that annual indexation will occur from 2013. The coalition's opposition to the student amenities fees is well and truly on the record. As I said, we believe that Australian students have been charged enough by this government.
I will make some comments in the context of the broader education arrangements. I know the Prime Minister is concerned about Australia losing the education race, but the Labor government's response is to increase these fees to university students and to reinforce and re-engineer compulsory student unionism. Australians everywhere are doing it tough. Families are doing it tough and that includes students, particularly those from rural areas who have not been supported with independent youth allowance in the way that the previous government supported them, in the way that rural and regional students deserve to be supported and in a way that it is in any way equitable when you consider the disadvantages faced by rural students compared to their city counterparts. As a rural member of parliament, I strongly endorse our rural universities. No, I do not think that every student in my electorate should be given the opportunity to study at Melbourne universities or Sydney universities and have all of their costs covered. I do not think that and I reject the framing of the debate in those terms, which I constantly see government members doing. But I do think that the students and the families I represent should have the opportunity to have the same number of choices made available to them. Incredible though our rural universities are—and I know they are incredible because I have gained two qualifications from them—they do not offer everything. They do not offer every single course or discipline. Sometimes of the tertiary training expertise does not reside in country areas—whether it is in vet science, which we just mentioned, though there is a fantastic vet science course at CSU in Wagga; medicine; engineering; or some of the sciences. You cannot make teachers move to those areas. The alternative is simply that our students have access to the best professional qualifications wherever they may go. We have seen stumbling and bumbling from the government over youth allowance and rural students' access to it. The minister was dragged kicking and screaming to pretty much coming back to something that we had, but not quite as good—and, gosh, there was a lot of heartache that students went through along the way. But, finally, through inquiries and representations the minister was brought back to the table to recognise these fundamental facts about equity of access for students going to rural universities. As I said, families are doing it tough and students are doing it tough. This bill is not about the independent youth allowance, but I think it was appropriate to mention it at this point.
Living costs continue to rise under this Labor government and Australians fear further rising costs as the carbon tax looms on the horizon. But Labor's response to Australians struggling with a higher cost of living is simply to slug students with more fees for the things they do not need and to take away their right to choose. That is right: as our students start to study or recommit to study, this Labor government is adding to their expenses by wanting to pass this Higher Education Support Amendment Bill, increase fees and add $263 to their expenses. That is $263 this year and then every additional year further indexation will apply.
What is the return students get for this money? They get a student newspaper, the O-week sausage sizzle, how-to-vote cards for student leadership—we do not really know. It will be up to the student unions to decide what these hard-working students, frequently juggling several jobs in addition to their studies, will or will not actually receive in exchange for their $263. Students should spend their hard earned and precious dollars on the services and goods that they want to purchase rather than on the ones that have been decided by the union. If student unionism was desired or required, surely the laws of supply and demand should apply. Yes, the coalition returned choice to student union fees in 2005 and the students around this nation breathed a sigh of relief. Since 2005, when we returned choice to student unionism, students have not had to work those extra shifts through exam weeks to earn enough simply to pay for these amorphous student services that they may or may not use, services that they may or may not benefit from. If such services were in demand, enterprising people would have, and in fact have, stepped in to provide such services on university campuses around this nation.
The coalition believe in giving every student choice. The coalition believe in giving every student access to education. Each time a fee is introduced or a fee is increased, students struggle. We seem to be the only ones who care about that struggle in this place. Future generations, future employers and future workplaces will be left short as more and more bright minds are restricted from accessing further education by the policies of this government. We thought that access to education was a right that this nation prided itself on. The Labor government is intent on widening the gap between those who can access education and those who cannot. They produce report after report on reducing the gap but here they are, yet again, introducing another bill that simply widens the gap. This government is completely out of touch. Its policy development is clearly little more than a 10-minute brainstorming session in front of a whiteboard each and every time. Let us remind ourselves of some of the ridiculous waste under this Labor government: computers in schools, a $1.4 billion blow-out and less than half delivered; the NBN, $50 billion but no cost-benefit analysis; and who could possibly forget the Building the Education Revolution fiasco? This must truly be the only government in the history of the world who believed that building a canteen could fuel a revolution. It is really rather difficult when the so-called canteen is not even large enough to fit a pie warmer. The cost of this masterstroke by the Prime Minister was $16.2 billion, but if you ask everybody what they want from their schools for their children they will tell you that it is that their children have the best teachers who teach them in the best way and who inspire them as only good teachers can. You do not need a classroom; you can learn sitting under a tree. I am not suggesting we do that, although I do have tiny schools in the electorate of Farrer that quite often leave their one-room classroom and sit under a tree. It does bring home the point that we did not need $16.2 billion of largely wasted expenditure. I do not say that none of the infrastructure was wanted or welcome, because some of it was, but time and again the government does things with no cost-benefit analysis, no evidence base and no demonstration that what it is doing is good value for taxpayers' money.
We have had way too many policy blunders under this government. This government is so overwhelmed with its own rolling series of internal crises that it fails to realise that cost-of-living pressures are genuinely overwhelming Australians. The coalition remain committed in its opposition to compulsory student unionism. We will be proposing an amendment to prevent this fee hike on students, who are already reeling from the cost of living under this Labor government.
It is a pleasure to follow the fine remarks of the member for Farrer in relation to the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012. I really ought to thank the government as well at this juncture for its utter, ongoing incompetence in administering bills in this parliament, which has given me another opportunity to express my opposition to the compulsory levying of a fee on students for services they neither want nor need. If the government were competent, this legislation would not be before us today. But it is utterly incompetent, as we know, and so we have before us this bill that seeks to index the compulsory fee that will be charged by higher education providers.
Why are we opposed to the levying of a compulsory so-called service or amenities fee on every student in the country? Our view is that young people attending university and taking on higher studies can make their own decisions about their own capital and about the services they need. At Sydney University, for example, where there is a campus of 30,000 students—a captive market—if you cannot provide a service at a profit you ought not be in business. We do not need the government to say that a higher education provider can levy every student a fee to make a choice about what services students will or will not use. It is simply an illogical proposition.
We know that this government is ideologically wedded to the idea of compulsory unionism. It is a backdoor way of allowing associations to receive money from higher education providers. We have seen that this $250 fee, in operation since the passage of earlier legislation, is being levied on students around the country. It is potentially $250 less for the necessities of education, such as textbooks, study materials, transport and the costs of living. Some people say that $250 is not a lot of money. As I said before in this chamber, as a young student who went to university from western Sydney, I know that $250 is a lot of money to young people. It is a lot of money to young people today. It remains a substantial sum to provide at all times.
This government has an illogical track record in relation to service fees. It says that it is going to have to means-test private health insurance and other government mechanisms, because it does not want the rich creaming off the fat of the land. That is this government's argument in relation to so many areas of public policy. But in relation to students this government is blind. If you are 18 to 25 and attend a higher education institution, you can pay. It does not matter whether you are rich or poor; it does not matter whether you have a job or you are unemployed: you will have to pay a fee. It is a completely illogical piece of public policy from this government and it has been from the beginning.
The universities of today are very mainstream, earthy places; they are not elite institutions or facilities. That is a great thing about Australia: people from all backgrounds can access university. People can study part time or full time—there are all kinds of arrangements—and that is a very good system. But the 130,000 students who study externally will never have the opportunity to use the services they are forced to pay for. If we embrace the user-pays culture, which we do in today's society, there is simply no need for this fee to be levied on all students—there is no call for it. When it was abolished by the Howard government, when the system of compulsory unionism and the compulsory levying of fees was removed, there was no outcry from young people in this country saying: 'Please, levy us a fee! Please, our services are falling apart!' Do you know what happened? Universities continued to function. In fact, they functioned the way they ought to. Students who used the services paid for them. Students who wanted access to a service sought it out and got it at a reasonable price.
But this government wanted to return to the illogical system of levying every single person. They see every student as the same. They can see the difference between a person earning $150,000 to $200,000 for private health insurance and they can see it for private education, but they cannot see it in relation to 18- to 25-year-olds. This government cannot see the difference between people struggling and working very hard in the western suburbs of Sydney, for example, where I came from and where my experience said to me it was an expensive exercise to pay that compulsory upfront fee. I struggled to find the money; I know many people who did. It was always an impediment, always a burden. It was more of a burden and an impediment because I could never understand what services it catered for, what it actually provided me. I did not access anything for it. I know many people who did not. This bill relates particularly to the government's failure to get their legislation right—an 'indexation mistake', I think it is termed in the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Act 2011. While I oppose the idea of levying a compulsory so-called service fee, I also oppose the indexation of that fee. I do not believe we should be indexing this fee. It is illogical to levy the same fee on every single student, regardless of income or ability to pay, and then say, 'Even if you don't use the services, or aren't getting value out of them, we're going to index them.' Indexation is a market concept related to the cost of delivering a service. If you index something, you are saying, 'Here's the quantifiable cost justified by the cost of the service provision going up.'
The simple fact is that this government is levying a fee on every student, through their higher education provider, without any relation to the service provided. So why should this fee be indexed? It is a big mystery. How is it that we have reached a position where the service providers cannot afford to fund the so-called services they are alleged to be providing under this retrograde legislation and have reached a point where they need to have the fee indexed? We all know the answer. There are no services provided by these bills. This is a complete and utter nonsense. This is a status measure that treats everybody the same. It says everybody can afford a flat fee, for services they do not use, regardless of whether a service is provided to a certain quality or not. It is a notion completely antithetical to our modern society.
The shame of this bill is that we are applying this to our best and brightest people, to young people, to people going to universities, to people seeking to get ahead. We have a retrograde Third World system where we are saying, 'We're going to treat you all the same and levy you the same fee, whereas, everywhere else, we are moving to means-testing and user pays.' Why would we treat our students and young people like that? It makes no sense.
We know that generation Y, which accounts for the bulk of university students at the moment, are a great generation. They have grown up with access to the internet and unprecedented freedom of thought and freedom of expression. We know that they are committed to innovation, forming their own businesses and enterprises, and doing things for themselves. When we are at a point in society where individual choice is at its maximum, why are we saying to people that they have to contribute a fee for a service regardless of whether they get a return or not? Why are we saying people are not capable of making their own individual choices? We know that, every day, these young people make individual choices about goods and services in the economy. They do so in a sustainable way related to their incomes. They are able to cope with the highly technological society we live in, which is much more advanced than any other generation in human history has dealt with. They do it well and they do it confidently. We ought to be saying: 'You guys are very, very smart people. You cope with the modern digital age. You're dealing with a range of complex issues that other generations haven't had to deal with. So you can choose whether you want to have gravy with your potato or not.'
The minister at the table raises her eyebrows at me, but these are the kinds of arguments we have heard from the Labor Party in relation to this legislation: if you get rid of a compulsory service fee, there will not be food provision on campuses. This is the absolute and utter nonsense we have heard from this government—especially the example I have given of a campus at the University of Sydney, where there are 30,000 students. If you cannot provide them with peas and gravy at a profit, you really ought not to be in business. Every single provider in this country—whether they be a food provider, a business or a news and information service—is desperate to get to university students and provide goods and services to them at cut-price rates. It is like any marketing principle: any business that can get to young people early and get them hooked on consuming their goods and services will be better off.
That is a great thing for young people. But, instead of embracing this culture, we have pieces of legislation like the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012, a status measure which seeks to apply the outdated concept of a compulsory service fee. It takes away individual choice, it takes away individual liberty and it takes away the ability of a person to think and act for themselves in the economy. It is totally antithetical to the whole construct of the Australian economy and the whole purpose of our education system, which is to bring people up as well-functioning individuals who can make their own choices.
This is just a short summary of why I am opposed to this legislation. There is plenty more. I know plenty of people do not want to hear it but we have made a lot of progress in Australia today down the path of individual liberty and people thinking for themselves. Gen Y and the generations to come are the kinds of people who can do this. They do not need a law from the federal government that says: 'We'll take money off you whether you want to pay it or not. It isn't for a service or return that you'll get. We can't quantify what you're going to get but we'll take that money off you. You won't have any choice about the service that's provided and you won't necessarily get a return. And we'll index that fee because there's no relation to the cost of providing the said mythical services.'
It is a poor way to do government, it is a poor way to do legislation, and it is an insult to every student in this country today that this government is pursuing this legislation in a blindly ideological way at the expense of ordinary young people in our country. It is an absolute disgrace. I do not make that remark in this chamber very often, but the treatment of young people by this government, the insult to their ability to choose and learn and do the things they want to do themselves, is graphically represented in the provisions of this bill. To index a service with no relation to the cost of providing the service is nuts. To levy every single Australian student, without any relation to their ability to pay, without any relation to the service provided to them, is nuts. Why do we do this? There isn't any coherent explanation. This is a compulsory student unionism mechanism by stealth. That is the only logical way we can explain it—a government, dominated by union members, seeking to reimpose a compulsory fee to reignite the spark of compulsory unionism on campuses. If freedom of association is good enough for everybody else in society, if it is good enough for every other stratum, it ought to be good enough for our students. People are free to join a union on campus, and I endorse that principle even though I do not agree with it. That competitive culture is something we should not deny our universities, students and young people, and that is why I oppose the Higher Education—so called—Support Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012 and the whole principle of indexation applied to a fee that should not exist in the first place.
I rise today to speak on the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012, and I congratulate the member for Mitchell on his excellent contribution to the debate. The bill before the House will increase the maximum amount that a higher education provider can charge students under the compulsory student services and amenities fee and comes as a result of the original bill passing through the parliament later than was expected. The coalition opposes these provisions, which increase the maximum amount of these fees from $250 to $263. The bill also changes the process of rounding HECS-HELP debt to the nearest dollar. Currently, the HECS-HELP debt that remains after a student pays part of it off is rounded up to the nearest dollar, but under the amendments it will be rounded down to the nearest dollar.
Further, changes are also to be made to the structure of FEE-HELP fees for dentistry and veterinary science students. Under the current system, the FEE-HELP amount for students studying medicine, dentistry or veterinary science is $100,000, with that amount being indexed to $112,132 in 2012. The proposed amendments will redefine what is meant by a course of study in dentistry and a course of study in veterinary science to now mean a course of study which would result in a qualification that is recognised as the minimum qualification by a governing body irrespective of whether the student has completed further studies before registration. This will ultimately result in students being able to access the higher FEE-HELP limit available for studies in these particular fields only up until they have achieved the minimum qualification for professional registration. This is different from the existing system, which allows for students to keep studying with the higher FEE-HELP limit until they seek registration.
As members of the House can see, this is not a large bill. However, its objective is quite clear: it will continue to place further cost burdens on students through its provisions regarding the government's new compulsory student unionism regime. I, like many of my colleagues on this side of the House and in the Senate, spoke out against what became the Gillard government's Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Act 2011 as it passed through the parliament late last year. We did this because we believe that students, like all Australians, deserve a choice. In this case, students deserve a choice as to whether they want to participate in campus life or whether they wish to opt out of extras during their university years. The then bill introduced a new compulsory payment for students, which was levied against them regardless of their income, financial standing or whether they wanted to access the services that they would be forced to pay for. The members opposite have tried to frame the coalition as ideologues in this debate. Supposedly, we decried this bill on a matter of principle. Well, yes, we did decry it on a matter of principle—the principle of common sense. Why should a student pay for a service they do not need, let alone want? Many students across Australia, such as part-time students and mature students, do not pay the extra fees for student union membership because they do not want or they do not need to access those services. So where is the logic in forcing people to buy into a system that they do not want to access at all?
There is no reason that the government should have to impose a compulsion on students to opt into student unions at all, let alone to the point that it is a required cost to receive a tertiary education. University students across the country have the opportunity to play various sports and to get involved in drama and/or participate in student politics as they go through studies. They should not, however, be forced to pay for and undertake activities which they do not want. If a person wishes to involve themselves in these extracurricular activities, that is their choice, and their choice alone. It should not be the choice of a government that is out of touch with the views and perspectives of the Australian people—in particular, students. All the act itself does is restrict a fundamental right that students have, and that is the right to choose: a right to choose whether they want to play for a sporting team or not; a right to choose whether they want to get involved in a cultural club or not; a right to involve themselves in the management of their student union or not; a right to choose whether to engage in student life and activities or to merely concentrate on their studies alone. The government have claimed that the fee they have imposed on students is to ensure they receive a robust education at university. So does that mean any student who does not choose to utilise the student services and amenities will have any less of an education than those who did? I believe most certainly that is not the case. But this is the type of hypocrisy that the people of Australia have come to expect from the members opposite.
Student life at universities did not die away with the introduction of voluntary student unionism. What it did mean is that many societies and clubs that were a drain on student union expenditure without any real purpose closed down. Many clubs and societies that either attracted a continuous stream of users or served a function to the student body kept on going. To suggest that voluntary student unionism has contributed to the death of student life is simply untrue. I recently attended the club sign-on day at Bond University. Here students had the opportunity to come and sign up to the various cultural and sporting clubs the student body had to offer. I saw hundreds of students who were eager and enthusiastic to join up to the various extracurricular activities that provide them with a break from their rigorous study schedules. What may surprise members opposite is that all the people there wanted to be there and wanted to sign up to clubs and societies, and did so without compulsion. But not every Bond student is a member of a campus club and society. At Bond, students have a choice, and that is the important issue here.
Reintroducing compulsory student unionism only shows that this government has no regard for the costs that many students have to deal with on a daily basis. Students have to pay for accommodation, food, transport, health needs and other sundry costs as they come up. They cannot afford to have more costs imposed on them, nor should they have to. We need to ensure that students are able to afford the necessities they need to study and to live comfortably enough so that they have a good quality of life. This helps students focus better, leading them to be much more productive students and members of the community.
I would also like to quickly take the opportunity to foreshadow an issue that some higher education institutions may face in the future, especially one of the institutions in my electorate. Growth across the overall higher education sector between 2007 and 2012 has increased by 27 per cent or 116,000 places. This is a positive result, and shows that our higher education industry is going strong. Further analysis needs to be done to review the impact of the removal of caps on university places to ensure that places are being properly allocated based on future workforce needs. This is essential work if we are to ensure that we are training and producing graduates in disciplines where there is a projected future employment need.
In closing my contribution to the debate today, I reaffirm my opposition to the provisions which increase the maximum amount of student services and amenities fees. Students cannot afford higher costs of living, and this will do just that.
In this country we enjoy many liberties and have extensive freedom in our lives. We enjoy access to many education institutions, including internationally respected universities. Yet sections of this bill, the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012, threaten some of the liberties that Australian students enjoy. The reduction of these liberties has wide-reaching implications for the future of our society and our nation.
Australia's future and its future success lies in its ability to adapt to the changing conditions of its economy. We are well aware that as a nation we face significant challenges over the coming decades. As time marches on we will be confronted with the challenge of an ageing nation as well as the challenges associated with the economy restructuring post the mining boom. As I have said in this place before, it is our obligation and it is our responsibility, as legislators, to ensure that we are prepared and resourced to face these challenges head on, to tackle them effectively and ensure our future financial security.
One of the planks which will form the structural foundation of our future economy is higher education. Education and innovative research will be absolutely critical to achieving higher productivity, better efficiency and new industry. Research and education will help enable this country to have a high-productivity economy, affluent with opportunity, an economy where individuals are empowered to be employed in innovative industries and earn higher real wages.
I have spoken in this place before about the recommendations of the Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education and the implications that these recommendations would have on Australia. The Bradley review recommended a goal of 40 per cent of young Australians holding bachelor's degrees by 2020—perhaps a grand goal, but a country such as ours needs grand goals. If we are to genuinely restructure our economy post the mining boom to focus on innovation and research, this is a goal that needs to become a reality.
But how can we encourage more students to achieve tertiary education, I ask? I propose that it is not by increasing the amount a higher education provider can charge under the compulsory student services and amenities fees. I propose that what this bill is trying to achieve by raising compulsory student union fees will have the opposite effect for students. It will make higher education less affordable, and it will make it less viable for many young Australians around our country to attend university. Ultimately, this move threatens Australia's chances of achieving the Bradley review's goal of 40 per cent of young Australians holding bachelor's degrees by 2020. This country is striving to achieve that goal. It is a strange move for those opposite to work to undermine that goal rather than to support it.
There are many barriers to entry to university around Australia. In some cases a barrier can be the sheer distance to travel to access a university campus. In other cases it can be the cost of relocating to a metropolitan centre to study. Another can be the difficulty of studying full time and trying to earn enough money to pay the bills. If we want our young people to attend university—indeed, if we want to encourage them to partake of the many opportunities available at a tertiary level—as policy makers we need to be doing everything we can to make the transition to university and time at university as practical and affordable as possible.
Nowhere is this evidenced more than in my own electorate. My community is one where the majority of young people have not gone on to training or higher education. In terms of university participation, my electorate of Longman is ranked 144th out of 150 electorates. Every day I speak to people in my community who share with me stories of struggle—struggle to pay their bills, to put fuel in the car and to put groceries on the table. This struggle has been made significantly worse by this Labor government. People are telling me that they cannot afford more costs. This struggle is not confined to families—young people have the same concerns. How then can we expect Australians to fork out even more money for their studies when they are already finding it difficult to make ends meet? It is difficult to quantify what impacts this will have on my community. How many young people will choose not to attend university simply for the fact that they feel they cannot make their money stretch far enough to get by on their limited funds while they study full or part time? But we can be guaranteed that there will be young people who choose not to attend for this very reason. If this bill, and the resulting higher student union fees that it causes, forces one person to choose not to equip themselves with the tools of a university degree for this reason, it is one person too many.
My community is host to one university campus, the Queensland University of Technology. The Caboolture campus of QUT, headed by Robert Craig, is a great community asset which has significantly invested in the future of our community through some important community engagement measures and which perfectly illustrates some of the difficulties that young people in my electorate experience in simply making the choice to attend university. Mr Craig highlights that one of the biggest hurdles is actually an aspirational one, convincing young people that they could and should attend university. That it is a possibility and that it is not too big a hurdle to jump are the keys to helping young people from my region overcome their background to go on to success at a tertiary level. But how can we possibly inspire our young people and help them to aspire to university when the perceived hurdle of financial costs in attending university are only set to increase under this bill? I suggest that this goes against exactly the thing we are trying to achieve in our community. I suggest that it works to undermine the unsteady and wavering aspirational goals of students that we are trying to build up.
Another issue that this raises is the way this bill enforces university students to pay for so-called services that they may neither want nor need through their time at university. We on this side of the House have a long history in support of individual freedom of choice to be voluntarily a part of a government organisation or association. We on this side of the House have long been advocates of voluntary student unionism at universities. It is clear that these actions are simply another example of a government trying to underhandedly go about reducing the freedoms of students and young people alike by introducing or reintroducing compulsory student unionism. The most powerful argument against this stealth attack on voluntary student unionism is the views of the students themselves.
We have a very strange situation here. We have a Labor government which truly believes that the majority of university students would be better served by seeing up to $263 of their money—money that could buy 50 beers, 175 litres of petrol or 40 pizzas—go to student politicians instead. How out of touch has this Labor government become? If the Labor Party cannot understand a student choosing to keep nearly $300 of their own money instead of giving it to a student politician, let us talk in statistics so that the Labor Party might actually understand. And the statistics do speak for themselves. Only five per cent of university students ever vote in student elections and the majority, a massive 59 per cent of students, indicated they were against compulsory university student fees in a poll commissioned by the Australian Democrats.
Why should students be subsidising student politicians' duplications of services through fees which they cannot afford, do not want and, for many young people, are a deterrent to entering into study at all? The answer is simple: they should not be subsiding these services and they should not be forced into forking out even more money, their own money, when they are at their least financially stable.
Recently I was contacted by one of my constituents, Wes Draper, who commutes to Brisbane to attend the University of Queensland. This young man, a conscientious physiotherapy student, contacted me to express his concerns over the reintroduction of compulsory student unionism. In his message to me, Wes said:
I have recently found out that I alone will be paying $131 at the start of this semester to pay for services that I do not use. This may seem like a small amount, but I fail to understand how it is fair that so many students will be paying this fee even though we don't all use these services. Many of these services, such as food and drink, are paid for by us anyway. I would also like to point out that a friend of mine who studies two degrees is required to pay this fee twice. How is that justified? Is that not "double dipping"?
Wes is just one of many young people who have contacted me to express their disgust over these fees. It is the concerns raised by Wes and many others like him that are the basis for which I do not support the move to increase the amount of money that universities can take from students.
As policy makers in this place, the responsibility rests upon our shoulders to prepare Australia for the significant national challenges that our country will face in the coming years. We are well aware that part of this will include education and innovation in our industries. To achieve this, higher education will be a priority. Ensuring that enough of our young people are educated and contributing to research will be integral. How do we achieve this? We achieve this by encouraging, not hindering. The best way that we as policy makers can make an impact and support our young people on this front is to ensure that costs associated with study do not increase, but this is exactly what this bill seeks to do. It seeks to empower universities to collect even more money from students who cannot afford extra money. It empowers student unions to force the subsidisation of their activities at the expense of students.
As policy makers in this place it is up to us to ensure that we have a society based on opportunity and on fair reward for hard work, where individuals are empowered and offered a hand-up rather than a handout, and where we as a nation can have hope that tomorrow will be better than today. A vibrant and inclusive higher education sector will be a key plank in achieving this. It is in this society that an individual's freedom to choose must be protected. It is this individual liberty that is directly under attack in this bill. It is this individual liberty that is under direct attack by this Labor government's student tax. On this side of the House, we will always stand up for Australians' individual liberty and for their freedoms.
I rise to speak on the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012. This bill makes a number of small changes related to higher education. The first of these is to change the name of the Melbourne College of Divinity to the MCD University of Divinity, where the university is referred to in the Higher Education Support Amendment Act. So it is deep and meaningful stuff that we are doing here.
The bill also allows for the rounding down of university students' HECS-HELP debt to the nearest dollar. The current system of rounding the debt up has resulted in many students making bulk payments off their debt thinking they have paid off their loan in full when they are actually left with $1 to pay. The last minor amendment is the introduction of increased restrictions on the subjects that qualify for a HECS-HELP loan in the fields of dentistry and veterinary science. This is needed to ensure that these loans are only available for the standard based dentistry or veterinary science bachelor degrees and not for the advanced courses in these fields, which are also available. I have no problems with these small changes.
The bill however also corrects a mistake made in the Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Act 2011 to allow this government to throw back to compulsory student unionism—the student amenities fee, to be indexed and increased to $263 for 2012. I oppose inflicting this fee on Townsville students and I strongly oppose the intent of this bill to make it hurt even more. Townsville is a university town. We have the main campus of James Cook University with over 9,000 full-time on-campus students as well as many thousands more, up to 25,000 students, studying part time and externally.
As a regional university servicing not just Townsville but all of North Queensland, James Cook University attracts a diverse student population from rural young people leaving college to local high school graduates to mature age students returning to study mid career, many of them whilst trying to juggle a career or raise a family. For these reasons, the opportunity for external study, particularly given the accessibility that technology now allows, is also very appealing to a lot of students. This broad range of backgrounds and commitments inevitably means a varied need and demand for services and facilities between students.
This straightforward reality is completely ignored by this Labor government. It now seeks every student to have to pay for amenities regardless of their use of the facilities or whether or not they even have access to them. This government likes to talk about fairness but I do not see how fair it is that an external student or a student who does not spend much time on campus should pay for facilities that they do not use, effectively subsidising the students who do choose to use them. If a university or student association provides good services that cater for what those students want then there is no reason that those who do use them would also not pay to do so. The average student already struggles with the cost of living, with most students finding it difficult to balance many work hours with study. They are simply not in a financial position to have a government throw an extra annual $263 fee for them to pay. To top it off, when they finish university with tens of thousands of dollars in debt to pay off, that is quickly earning interest, they must pay the fee before they even start earning an income.
It is a disgusting attitude for this government to think that it is okay to charge students a fee for services they do not even use, because many will put it on their HECS-HELP loan. These income-contingent loans provide us with a good and fair higher education system that helps make university accessible to as many people as possible. But that does not mean that it is free and that it does not cost any extra. When you put drinks on a bar tab it might seem like a good idea at the time but you still have to front up and pay for them at the end of the night, unless you are very swift and run the risk. While some students can put this fee on HECS, at the end of the day they still have to front up and pay for it when they begin working, plus the interest that has accrued along the way.
I have already had concerned JCU students come to me angry about this. They tell me it is already tough enough to make ends meet without paying for facilities that they simply do not use. They are busy enough with study, work and, for many, a family. They do not even have time to play sport or to be involved in campus based organisations. Others are not interested in using these facilities. They are happy spending their spare time off campus.
At James Cook University we also have a renowned school of medicine and other health related courses such as physiotherapy. These are courses that involve extensive placements and with the university's focus on tailoring education to regional service delivery a placement does not just include going to an office down the road for a few weeks. It involves going to another town and being based there for several weeks, if not months, at a time. These students wonder why they still have to pay the same fee as everyone else when they are not even in the same city or have the same campus facilities for large parts of the year.
The majority of Townsville students would fit into these groups. They study externally or they do not have time for extracurricular activities, or they do not want to spend more time on campus than they have to, or their placements take them to an entirely different city. That is the modern university experience and this new fee is yet another sign of just how out of touch this government is with higher education. Last year it snuck through the amenities fee when everyone's attention was on the carbon tax. I would not support it then and I will definitely not support this legislation that uses indexation to increase to an even greater cost. I know that it is not going to the student union director. I know that the university itself is collecting it. For those reasons I have had very quick discussions with the Vice-Chancellor of James Cook University, Professor Sandra Harding, and said that it is the students who are coming to me who say that it is simply not fair. They say to me that they should have the option. I was rung by the mother of two boys. She is a single parent living in Kirwan, which is one of the nice suburbs in Townsville. Both of the boys live at home and work part time to help make ends meet. She has a weekly grocery bill of $300 and she has just received an electricity bill of $900—electricity is going through the roof. They do not have a pool and the boys do not sleep in air-conditioning, as that would be a very expensive way to live. She is wondering: 'What's next? What else can they pile on?' Her rates are coming and she is wondering what else can be piled on to make things more and more expensive. She was very close to tears while she was talking to me about just how hard it is to make ends meet. The boys go to university, they do their one subject or they do their two lectures and then they come home. They study at home and then they go to work. They are not hanging round the rec club, they are not going to see bands and they are not doing anything at the university—they are going to work. That is a common story.
I have two daughters at university, one in Townsville and one in Brisbane. They are both members of the student union. When my wife went to university, she was a member of the student union—because she chose to be and because she wanted to be. My kids also want to be members. They want to be involved and they want to avail themselves of the services. So they feel that it is money well spent and I support them in their decision. But it is just not acceptable, in today's day and age, to make a student services and amenities fee compulsory for the modern university student—who does not go immediately from school to spending four years at university living in a dorm, playing up all weekend, playing rugby for the university and so on. It does not happen like that. The modern university student has a job, the modern university student is flat out and the modern university student is working weekends and working nights. They do not have time to avail themselves of these facilities, plus they want better facilities anyway. If they want to avail themselves of a good service, they will go out and pay for it themselves.
JCU students in Townsville are not happy with this whole system of having to pay these upfront fees. In reaction to that and because this government has so far ignored them, I have started a petition calling for the abolition of this unfair fee. Those students who do not think that they should have to subsidise someone else's extracurricular activities can go onto my Facebook page and sign the petition to finally have their voice heard.
At a press event we did to highlight this issue, a young man, the son of an electrician, said the one good thing about this whole issue was that it was bringing things to a head—that there are so many people out there who do want the choice. There are people out there who want to pay for these services and they should be allowed to pay for them. The universities should be allowed to ask them to pay. But, if you do not want to pay a fee for these things, you should not have to. Ask people to pay cash to use a service—do whatever you like. But do not slam these people with up to $263 a year when they cannot afford it.
I have no problems with most of the changes that this bill proposes to make but I will not support legislation that makes university students at James Cook University pay for facilities that they do not use. The university experience of today is vastly different from what it used to be and students should not be slugged with a compulsory fee just because their campus has not provided services that students want to use and are willing to pay for. I urge all students, particularly those in Townsville, who do not think this is fair to join me in telling that to this out-of-touch government.
We need to provide as good a start as we can for every university student. We have to hope that, by providing them with a good basis for their education, they will be rewarded for effort and will be given every opportunity to succeed. But, if we are continually putting anchors out the back of them and slowing them down then, as the member for Longman said, we are going to get to the stage where people are going to choose not to go—simply because they have to tag this money for so long. It does become an issue. It is only $263, which for us in here is probably not that much money. But when you are a student trying to do these things or when you are a single mum with two boys trying to make ends meet, however, it is money. It is cold hard cash that you have to account for. It is money that you have to be sure you are getting a positive result for. They are getting no result for this.
Make students pay for these services as they go. Make the people that use the services pay. Make them pay as they go in. Make them put a dollar coin in a bucket. Make them do anything, but do not make it compulsory for people who are struggling—people with grown-up kids going back to study or external students. Do not make them have to pay for free drinks for somebody else. It is just wrong. The government should have a real good look at itself and bring this thing down.
This year students went back to university to discover that a condition of continuing their studies was a compulsory student services and amenities fee of up to $263. They did not have to pay that fee last year because it was voluntary, as it was for the six years before that. This is the only fee that students must pay upfront and they are forced to pay it if they want to continue and complete their university degree. This is a disgrace. It should be immediately removed and this bill, which perpetuates this fee, should be rejected.
The issue we are debating in this bill is, in essence, whether or not students should be forced to pay a student services fee or a student representation fee. This battle has been waged now for almost two decades. For two decades, we on this side of the chamber have been arguing passionately that students should have the right and the responsibility to choose for themselves whether or not they want to pay for certain amenities, services and representation on campus. For two decades, the Labor Party on the other side of the chamber has been arguing vigorously that students must not have that choice but must be compelled to pay an upfront fee as a condition of doing their studies. This bill before us perpetuates Labor's desire to cement compulsory student unionism into the university landscape across Australia. Not only that, but this bill now allows the student services and amenities fee to go up to $263.
This bill gives an indication of the priorities of this government. We have thousands of jobs being lost on a weekly basis. We have underemployment at a 10-year high. We have boats continuing to arrive on a weekly basis. We have the immigration system in tatters. We have preschools closing and childcare fees skyrocketing and becoming unaffordable. But this government does not address those things. It uses a full morning of parliament to introduce a measure to raise compulsory fees from $250 to $263. So important is that extra $13 it wants out of every single university student across the country that this becomes a priority of today's morning session of the parliament. Apparently, jobs can wait. Apparently, cost-of-living pressures can wait. Apparently, the boats can keep arriving. But, jeez, we have got to get that 13 bucks out of those students. We cannot wait another 12 months for that $13 per student to automatically come into being.
We are so opposed to compulsory student unionism for the simple reason that we believe that students themselves should have the choice of whether or not they pay for student services and for student representation. It is a pretty simple proposition. University students are all adults. They are all above 18 years of age. They all have the maturity and the wisdom to decide for themselves which university to go to, what courses they want to study and how hard they want to study—or whether they want to study at all. They are adults, and they have that right and that responsibility. The Labor Party, and this Labor government, is happy for them to have those choices; but no, no, no, they are not allowed to have the choice of whether or not to pay for an event which is being held on campus; they do not have the right to determine whether or not they want to subsidise the catering which they may not use; and they do not have the right, and apparently they do not have the capacity or the responsibility, to determine whether or not they want any form of representation on campus. This is insulting to the 1½ million students who attend tertiary institutions. On this side of the House we firmly believe that students should have that choice, and that is the reason we are so strongly against compulsory student unionism. They should be able to decide for themselves what they want to spend their money on.
This principle is so important in the context of the changing demographics at our universities. The member for paradise, the member for Herbert, made the point that students these days are working hard. Many are part-time students and so they are not hanging around on campus as they might have done 20 or 30 years ago. Nearly all students these days have part-time jobs to get through university. We know that 130,000 students are external students and so never set foot on a university campus. They never have the opportunity to avail themselves of the services and amenities which this compulsory levy would provide, but they also have to pay an upfront fee. How does that work? They do not set foot on the campus because they are studying externally, yet the government forces these students to pay a compulsory levy for services which they will never benefit from. This government needs to answer these fundamental questions because they go to the heart of this bill and to the heart of compulsory student unionism, which this government reintroduced six years after student unionism was made voluntary.
Like the member for Herbert, I have had dozens of students make representations to me that they are outraged that they have to pay a compulsory fee when they do not use those services. Let me read out comments from two or three such people. David Jancik, for example, who lives in Ferntree Gully in my electorate, writes:
I have to pay an extra $263 per year.
That is this year. He attends Monash University. He writes:
Basic car parking permit last year was $360, justified due to a lack of student amenities fees. Yet this year, with the amenities fees, the parking permit is still $360. Apart from parking, I have never used union services and now have to pay $263 for nothing.
Stephen, who is from Rowville, writes:
My daughter went berserk when she got hers … She doesn't use the services AND she is doing honours and only needs to be at Uni for a few weeks this year had to pay a full Semester in 'amenity' fees … She is Not Happy …
Frankie, another student from my electorate, says:
$55 per trimester and as a part-time post-grad student and I will be using zero of their services as the majority of my tuition is online or out of standard business hours (i.e. when they're closed).
There are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people who are in exactly the same position. They are barely on the university campus or they are only on the university campus to attend their tutorials or lectures and then go home to attend to their children, or study, or attend sporting clubs; yet this government is forcing them to pay fees for services they do not want.
Often the argument in favour of a compulsory fee is that it pays for essential services which more needy students need to complete their university degrees. I do not deny the fact that some services are necessary, but I put to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that those services which students and younger people generally need—particularly those who are more disadvantaged—are not the services provided by the university campuses but often the services provided by governments or NGOs. It might be Centrelink, for example; it might be Legal Aid; it might be Lifeline; it might be the Salvos, if the students are in particular financial trouble, or Anglicare. These are services that exist already. They are already paid for by the taxpayer. They are already funded by the government or by donations collected by the Salvation Army or Anglicare. I think that argument, which is frequently put forward, is a furphy.
The second argument which is often put is that amenities and services fees are only for particular services and do not go at all to paying for political representation on campus. I know that the legislation itself expressly says that. I know that the regulations say that the money which is collected on a compulsory basis cannot be used for political representation. But we on this side of the House know that this is exceptionally hard to police. We know that inevitably some of the funds leak over into political representation so that it not only becomes a compulsory fee for services but in essence becomes compulsory unionism, something which we very firmly reject.
The final simple point I would make in relation to this bill and in relation to the issue of compulsory student unionism is this. When you have services which are run by individuals, businesses or companies that have to deliver to their customers in order to attract revenue, then those services will be much more responsive to the needs of their customers than what a service would be if it were guaranteed its funding through a compulsory levy. That is a very simple proposition and it goes to the heart of what we on this side of the House believe about fundamental liberal economics and the fundamental value of the free market. You get more responsiveness to students or to any other customers when a free market is at play, when businesses have to compete, when they have to deeply understand what the students want and what they need and tailor their services accordingly. You get far better responsiveness and far better tailoring to what students actually want and need than if those businesses or universities are simply given a bucket of money. Because that bucket of money has been collected on a compulsory basis, those services can become lazy and less responsive to student demand over time.
This bill is an important one. It is important not just because of the issues which we have been discussing and what this bill entails in regard to perpetuating compulsory student unionism. It is also important because it stands as a clear illustration of the stark philosophical divide between the coalition on this side of the House and the Labor Party on the other side of the House. We on this side of the House very much favour freedom of choice. We very strongly favour individual responsibility. We very strongly believe the free market delivers better outcomes to customers and students. They are our core philosophical beliefs and they are represented by our advocacy against compulsory student unionism. On the other side of the House, the contrast is that they favour compulsion. They have an innate mistrust of the market delivering for people. They do not favour giving students the individual responsibility and individual dignity to be able to make a choice of their own. This is an important bill. It is an important bill to be debated, but it is one that should be very firmly rejected. When we get back into government, hopefully at the next election, we will once again be abolishing compulsory student unionism.
In rising to address this bill, the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012, I would like to focus as others have done on one particular schedule—schedule 1, items 1 to 9—and the amendments relating to the indexation of student services fees. The bill follows a previous amendment that has already come before us and passed the parliament, is already in operation and is already hurting Australian students. We knew that the previous amendment would hurt Australian students before it was passed because, like so many other bills that come before us, it was a traditional Labor-inspired attack on freedom. The Higher Education Legislation Amendment (Student Services and Amenities) Bill 2010 was delayed passage through this place until 2011. As a consequence, we are told we now have a problem with the indexation of student services fees.
The original amendment allowed higher education providers to charge students an annual, capped, compulsory student services and amenities fee of $250 plus indexation from 1 January 2011. Due to the delayed introduction of that bill, we now have another amendment bill before us to clarify the indexation rates and revise the maximum fee allowed to be charged. The maximum fee to be charged of students will rise from $250 to $263 with this bill. So the question is: why are we bothering to go to all the trouble of creating this amendment and pushing it through parliament for the sake of $13? I would suggest that it is because every dollar counts. Every dollar counts when it comes to the penny pinching of Labor and the unions, including student unions.
I said before that this was a Labor-inspired bill because it was an attack on freedom. The very last thing that a Labor government wants to see is somebody having a say in how they spend their own money. On that basis, Labor are sure to make sure that every dollar counts. It is in their DNA to make sure that every single dollar that they can possibly lay their hands on is extracted out of private individuals' pockets so that they can spend it somewhere else and say: 'Look at us. Aren't we nice? We are providing the people'—in this case, the student unions—'with something that is half as good as what could be provided and at twice the price. And here is the best bit: we are doing it all with your own money.' That is why every dollar counts when it comes to this government. Every dollar they can extract from an individual through taxes, fees, levies or whatever they want to call them is one more dollar that can be used inefficiently. The theft of individual freedom—that genetic predisposition to taxing and wasting on the other side—is what we see in this compulsory student services and amenities fee. Because it is compulsory, students do not have a choice in this. They do not have a choice in how their money is spent. They must be fleeced of $263 every year, basically to be a part of a student union. Let us not mince words here. This so-called student services and amenities fee is nothing more than a student union fee. It used to be called the student union fee, but now we have a student services fee because we do not want to make it obvious that we once had compulsory student unionism and that we are now going back to it and are going to be indoctrinating students into the student union movement so that they can go on and become compulsory lifelong supporters of and donors to the Labor Party.
If it is a pig, call it a pig. Do not put lipstick on it and call it Katie. If it looks like a pig, grunts like a pig and smells like a pig, let's just call it a pig. And this pig does smell. The smell is already wafting around university campuses across the country. We witnessed earlier this month what compulsory unionism does to university students when students from James Cook University in Townsville, in the electorate of my good friend the member for Herbert, voiced their disgust at being forced to pay for services they were not accessing. In the Townsville Bulletin on 8 March we had university student Rebecca Mottin saying that students were already struggling and that this tax was a 'useless' expense.
And that is right: students are struggling. Here is a news flash for the Labor Party: students are not rich. For students, as well, every dollar counts. Why are we bothering with creating legislation and pushing it through parliament for the sake of $13, when universities are already slugging students for that extra $13 anyway? That is quite serious. The same Townsville Bulletin article says that James Cook University students have until the end of this month to pay $263. Those bills are out there now, and this legislation is supposedly enacting that. There is no waiting to clarify how the indexation works for students, who now have to find money before the end of the month to pay that bill. To a student, $250—the original amount in the last bill—is alone a huge impost. To a student, that extra $13 can make all the difference. As I said, to a student every dollar counts; $13 means a student can feed himself for a day—or, given the penchant some students have for Maggi noodles, perhaps for a week!
If members in this place do not believe that it makes a difference to a student, they will be hard-pressed to explain how it is going to make a difference to a student union. We are told that these fees are going to be used in addition to the advocacy the student union provides—for services like sports clubs, accommodation support, infrastructure and campus amenities. All of those sound a lot like things universities should be providing as a matter of course. Let us not forget that students are already paying fees for their education. They are paying for textbooks and all their living expenses—rent, fuel, groceries, electricity, phone and internet—but they have a very limited income. This new tax on students—which is what it is—makes them pay for a sporting club or for a facility on campus whether they use it or not, and whether they are an internal student or a distance education student living thousands of kilometres away from the campus.
A third-year business student at James Cook University, Drew Alexion, says the compulsory student union fee is an 'unrealistic cost for students'. He says:
I can't imagine it is going to provide me with any real benefit and it is incredibly unfair for external students who will probably never use the amenities and for me as a-come-and-go student.
So on one hand we have students being indoctrinated with this compulsory unionism and acceptance of the old tax-and-waste regime of Labor, and on the other hand we have students learning a valuable lesson about the loss of freedom.
I asked students in my electorate what they thought about the fact that this is a compulsory fee, and the feedback was pretty convincing: compulsory student unionism or compulsory fees, especially for students, is a disgrace. Jessica Harris, who is going to CQ University in Mackay, said it is very difficult. This is what she told me: 'First of all, most of the scholarships that everyone offers here are for engineering or environmental studies. I'm doing education. And yes, I know that I will not be earning big money or working at the mines, but we're still worth helping out. By investing in teachers you're investing in children. This new student union fee is ridiculous. Not only do we have to pay for textbooks—and mine were $475 for a 12-week unit—or have to pay $500 to $800 per subject, but now we have to pay an extra $130 a half-year for the student association to do the exact job that they were doing beforehand.' That is a very good point. This is what another student, Brittany Power in Mackay, had to say: 'For uni students in Mackay, who have no other option than to complete their course through external subjects, what benefits do these amenity fees give? There are already enough expenses related to university.' She listed some. There are subject fees, textbooks and technology—all the courses require computers, and the internet. There are travel costs to residential schools, classes and placements. There are also the ramifications of the time restrictions with regard to paid work—this coming from a student who is studying full-time and has three part-time jobs. There is equipment required in the course of her studies and fieldwork, and costs relating to preclinical requirements, including a police check, blue card, immunisations and first aid and CPR courses. A student incurs all this. Brittany asks one simple question: 'How can the government justify adding to this list of expenses for students?'
So students are quickly learning the difference between Labor government policies and the policies of the Liberal-Nationals coalition. That is probably the one good thing that has come out of this—that they will learn a lesson about Labor. In light of the Gillard Labor government's performance, one of taxing and wasting on a gargantuan scale, students are learning how valuable economic freedom is—the freedom to have your own dollar and spend it in the most efficient way, as they did before the last bill was introduced—and how that freedom has evaporated. And it will evaporate even more with the passage of this bill, because once that dollar gets into the hands of a Labor government or their mates in the student unions there will be little or no benefit coming back to the actual student, and every student knows that every dollar counts.
This week Labor will vote for an extra 13 of those dollars—263 student dollars, to be taken out of their pockets and put into someone else's hand. We on this side will not stand for it. We will support students' retention of their own money and the defeat of this bill.